Tulsa school board Jan. 6, 2020

Tulsa School Board President Shawna Keller (left), Superintendent Deborah Gist and board member Brian Hosmer stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, led by members of the Webster High School JROTC Color Guard, at the opening of the school board meeting Monday evening. JOSEPH RUSHMORE/for the Tulsa World

Within the next month, Tulsa Public Schools will be providing more details on the $20 million budget cuts due for a board vote in February.

Only about 15% of the plan has been released. Officials say legal and contractual requirements prevent them from giving more specific information on the remaining cuts in the works because they affect personnel.

We understand those obligations and respect the process. However, Superintendent Deborah Gist needs to expedite those steps to give the public time to digest the full recommendation and have time to react before the school board takes action.

So far, transparency and public input have helped TPS mitigate the emotional community possibilities of the key nonpersonnel issue, school closings.

The district plans to close four elementary schools — Jones, Grimes, Wright and Mark Twain — to save up to $3 million a year. Families were given reasons for the data-backed decision and provided information on where students would be transferred. They also got the time they need to think about the changes and respond to them.

Of particular concern were students enrolled in Wright’s deaf education program moving into a school without the same culture. Officials appear to be on top of that, too, saying the entire staff moves with the students for continuity and promising a nuanced transition.

To its credit, the district has sought public comments in the preliminary stages of the budget cutting process through a community survey and in meetings held at various locations in the city. The goal was to get an idea of priorities but also allowed residents to ask questions and vent frustrations.

Those are crucial components for public acceptance of the final plan.

We remain disappointed that a subsequent advisory group formed budget-cut recommendations in secret. But the district can help repair that damage with transparency from here forward.

Passions and disappointment will come with the revelation of the complete budget proposal. The public deserves enough time to understand what is on the table and to respond to it through elected representatives.


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